Focusing on the Achievable: Absolute to Functional Zero
When the City of Calgary launched its 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness on January 29, 2008, its primary goal was Absolute Zero, or the complete elimination of homelessness. As part of this initiative, Calgary Homeless Foundation helped house almost 10,000 people and built nearly 600 units of permanent housing.
However, it became clear that achieving Absolute Zero would be a challenge without corresponding changes to the public systems of housing, income supports, justice, children’s services and health.
As a result, Calgary Homeless Foundation and other agencies released an updated plan ten years later, outlining a new goal: Functional Zero.
This revised objective represents a major shift in focus. Instead of seeking an end to homelessness, Functional Zero is about preventing homelessness or making it a rare, brief, and non-recurring experience in a person’s life.
Functional Zero is a more realistic vision of success. It ensures that Calgary Homeless Foundation’s efforts to address homelessness remain focused and measurable without fixating on the target of Absolute Zero.
How do we reach Functional Zero?
Creating a system where there are fewer vulnerable individuals than housing spaces is key to achieving Functional Zero. When housing spaces are not overwhelmed, people spend less time experiencing homelessness.
To establish this system, two systems of care must work together: the primary public systems and the Homeless-Serving System of Care (HSSC) – a network of agencies including Calgary Homeless Foundation that delivers housing supports and programs to individuals and families experiencing homelessness.
Functional Zero envisions the following web of cooperation:
Step 1: primary public systems stop people from experiencing homelessness in the first place through measures such as affordable housing, increased income support, mental health services and policies supporting youths leaving the foster care system.
Step 2: if people fall through the cracks, the HSSC – composed of Calgary Homeless Foundation and other non-profit agencies – help reconnect those individuals to the public systems.
Step 3: meanwhile, HSSC focuses on bolstering its services, including housing and emergency shelter beds, so that people experiencing homelessness can find housing quickly and do not return homelessness again. Public systems also invest in these housing and supports.
What are the advantages of a Functional Zero end to homelessness?
Functional Zero safeguards the health and well-being of vulnerable individuals by helping them find homes quickly.
Moreover, Functional Zero is cost-effective, because it prevents people from experiencing homelessness at the level of public services. This reduces the costs that arise when vulnerable individuals use emergency services, such as shelters, hospitals, police services and the criminal justice system.
Finally, Functional Zero keeps all of us in Calgary focused on creating solutions to the issue of homelessness. Having a measurable and achievable goal keeps us on track as we work towards ending homelessness for good.
Together to Zero: Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness